Online First

2021 : Volume 1, Issue 1

Remarks on the Epistemological Foundations of Psychoanalysis

Author(s) : Giuseppe Iurato 1

1 ICMM , Sweden

Mod J Med Biol

Article Type : Editor Note


Psychoanalysis has been considered, from much time, not having the epistemological status of scientific disciplines. In this inaugural note for the new Modern Journal of Medicine and Biology, we would like to point out that, from a historiographical enquiry of psychoanalysis itself, it is yet possible to identify a first, provisional framework within which to lay out psychoanalysis from a scientific perspective.


Unfortunately, it is well-known that psychoanalysis has a bad reputation within the set of scientific disciplines, also among the psychological ones. Well-known criticisms were also moved by Karl R. Popper in regard to the epistemological setting of psychoanalysis which cannot have the same status of scientific disciplines basically because it is simply not falsifiable. All that has contributed to shed discredit on psychoanalysis, inside the realm of psychological disciplines. This has also been further aggravated by the alleged inefficiency of psychoanalytic therapy as usual experimental assessments are quite impossible to purse in its own context. So, psychoanalysis has always been considered as a kind of semi-scientific discipline, if not even belonging at most at the humanities realm.

Notwithstanding that, psychoanalysis has given the most preeminent theoretical basis to psychiatry and psychopathology, as well as to general knowledge theory for its deep philosophical meaning. But, all this has not been quite enough to ensure or warrant a minimal epistemological status to be included into the scientific disciplines set. It has even received many criticisms when considered as belonging to social-humanities disciplines, for the strict subjectivity of its outcomes and responses, as its concepts, tools and methods should be applied to the singular and specific case treated in each analytic setting, due to the uniqueness and typicality of the personal life route of any human being, hence of every patient under analysis. This last feature has then hindered any possible application of psychoanalysis also to social sciences, just due to such a typical singularity feature of every analytic setting.

Nevertheless, looking at the wide repertory of psychoanalytic concepts according to the orthodox trend of psychoanalysis, it is possible to identify some concepts which may be seen as a kind of invariants or constants similar to those of natural sciences which confer them the scientific status. To be precise, the basic notion of phantasy, according to orthodox Freudian settlement (also in its revised form as due to some post-Freudian authors), is able to undertake the status of invariant or universal constant of Freudian theory, hence having the same status of scientificity of those owned by natural sciences. Therefore, Freudian psychoanalysis (as well as the other psychoanalytic trends) may get a scientific status if, for instance, is able to build up – by revision-a framework made only by invariant or universal constant concepts which may be got or identified from the interpretations standing out from the analytic setting on every patient. Only in this way, psychoanalysis may hope to get a scientific status as that owned by other disciplines already classified as sciences.

In psychoanalysis, the term phantasy has not to be confused with the term fantasy: the latter refers to the proper imaginative activity of human being, the usual world of imagination, while the former refers a particular form of imaginary activity which has been ascertained by Freud by analyzing the dream reports of his many patients. From these, Freud identified certain schemata which turned out be present in almost every dreaming experience, hence transcending the individuality of the patient, phylogenetically transmitted, thence universal. He called them primary phantasies, and have a clear unconscious nature, closely linked to desire and its prohibitions, moulding the conscious fantasy as that forming the latent content of dreams.

The concept of phantasy, according to Freud, springs out from the latest attempt to account for the ultimate elements which stand behind the imagination or fantasy of every human being, that Freud brings back to real traumatic events or scenes which taken place in the human prehistory, so were phylogenetically implemented in the psyche as primordial structures which recursively return just as primary phantasies ontogenetically, to try to provide an answer to the strong questions posed by existential anxiety that every human being experiences since childhood. This is in agreement with what Ron Britton calls the epistemological drive of human being as an innate instinct of knowledge, hence to give an answer to each issue posed by life. Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis then have given a great contribution in studying primary phantasies and give them a licit epistemological status within psychoanalysis framework.

On the other hand, if the searching for such pre-individual psychic structures – upon which then personality of each individual grows up – is the final and chief aim of psychoanalysis, other two outcomes are also reached: first, a major degree of objectivity may be gained by psychoanalysis just from the finding of these universal and invariant entities of every human psyche; second, a stronger relationship may be established between psychoanalysis and biological sciences thanks to the study of the possible biological counterparts underlying such pre-subjective entities, like for instance the so-called neuropsychological modules as meant by George Ellis and Mark Solms. In such a manner, a bridge between psychoanalysis and biology confers a certain degree of scientificity to the former, by means of the solid experimental bases of biological sciences, so, in conclusion, we hope that the searching of phantasies and their structures may renew psychoanalytic framework itself, above all from the epistemological standpoint.


  1. Britton R (1998) Belief and Imagination. Explorations in Psychoanalysis. Routledge & The Institute of Psycho-Analysis.
  2. Ellis G and Solms M (2018) Beyond Evolutionary Psychology. How and Why Neuropsychological Modules Arise. Cambridge University Press.
  3. Laplanche J and Pontalis JB (1967) Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse. Sous la direction de Daniel Lagache. PUF-Presses Universitaires de France.
  4. Laplanche J and Pontalis JB (1985) Fantasme originaire, fantasmes des origins, origine du fantasme. Éditions Hachette.
  5. Ricoeur P (1965) De l’interprétation. Essai sur Freud. Éditions du Seuil.

Correspondence & Copyright

Corresponding author: Giuseppe Iurato, ICMM, Linnaeus University, Sweden

Copyright: © 2020 All copyrights are reserved by Giuseppe Iurato, published by Coalesce Research Group. This work is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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